What is a beloved pre-happy hour ritual?

The much-missed tradition of “Jeopardy!” at the Crystal Corner.

The much-missed tradition of “Jeopardy!” at the Crystal Corner.

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I will forever associate Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! with the Crystal Corner Bar.

Every weekday at 4:30 p.m. (before the pandemic, of course), the TVs at this Willy Street institution were switched over from sports replays and/or local news to that big iconic blue grid. At some point during the show, the bartender handed out slips of paper and pencils for Final Jeopardy. That last question (sorry, answer) was posed to the contestants, the staccato earworm of a melody played for a quiet room, and Crystal patrons scribbled their answers down right along with the wanna-be Ken Jennings-es up on the TV.

If you got the question right, you got one of the best prizes you can get at a bar: a free drink in the form of a scuffed-up, beaten-down, and (are those bite marks?) possibly even chewed-on little plastic chip. There were usually a couple of correct answers out there in the room. I think even I may have gotten one or two the handful of times I was present for Jeopardy! at the CCB.

If you get the question wrong, well, it’s only just turned 5 p.m. on a weekday and you’re the type who’s already at a bar so (who are you kidding) you were probably going to have another round anyway. 

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m just a sheltered little lamb and this is one of those widespread things that lots of places in Wisconsin and/or elsewhere happen to do. It’s not the only bar where people yell at the TV, but regulars have known for a good long while that this is a solid Crystal Corner tradition. Scoring freebie drinks by correctly answering a trivia question before the happy-hour crowd has even grabbed their coats is exactly the kind of charming impromptu neighborhood bar get-together that most of us took for granted in The Before Times.

Lots of events, both happy and sad (mostly sad, if we’re being honest) have happened since Spring that would’ve been wonderful to memorialize with friends over cheap draft pitchers or to simply experience in the moment. Thinking about it now, I’m impossibly bummed that I missed the chance I could have been jostling for a position to get a bartender’s attention on the night when Trump tweeted he had COVID-19. Can you imagine the vibe of a room of people whose phones are all blowing up to that news? And with two hours left til last call, even! Instead, pretty much all of the pandemic’s “Where were you when…” questions will be answered with “At home. Like everyone else.”

It was Alex Trebek’s passing, of all things, that really hammer home in that immediate moment the idea that we were being robbed of granularly small moments of grief-sharing. Here was a thing that happened where I knew, purely instinctually and without a scintilla of doubt, that in better times I could’ve walked into the CCB this past Monday afternoon and had a sincere moment with a bunch of folks who are mostly strangers. It’s not a putting-flowers-on-his-Walk-Of-Fame-Star level expression of grief, but it’s about as close as you could’ve gotten in Madison. 

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